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A Postdoc's Guide to Paternity Leave
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A Postdoc's Guide to Paternity Leave

Table of Contents

Suggested Timeline
Make a Paternity Research Plan
Postdoc Appointment Classification and Benefits Tips on Talking with your Postdoctoral Supervisor
Access to Paternity Leave Where to Find More Information at Your Institution
Creating a Paternity Leave Salary Plan Acknowledgements


Make a Paternity Research Plan


No matter how much leave you plan to take after the birth of your baby, if any, those initial months will include a number of new responsibilities likely managed on less sleep than normal. Therefore, you may want to make a written plan for how your research will proceed during that time. A written paternity research plan can provide a way to keep yourself focused and on track, especially when your time at work becomes precious. Moreover, the plan can provide a mechanism for communicating with your postdoctoral supervisor and collaborators about your leave or any family-related accommodations you might need. Some general considerations for that plan are:

How much work can you get done before the baby arrives? Try to identify some milestones you can reasonably reach before you go on leave, especially ones that require you to physically be at work. Allow yourself some flexibility here.

Is there anyone who can continue some of your work while you are on leave?

  • Collaborators or members of your lab or group might be able to continue some aspects of your project during your leave, so talk to them in advance.

  • A specially hired technician might also be able to continue some of your research if your leave will be extended. Funds for this temporary hire could be available through grants, grant supplements or even from your institution, which might offer transitional support to faculty for career interruptions. Find out if your paternity leave might qualify for such institutional support for your supervisor's project where you are the primary supported researcher.

  • In all cases, be sure to discuss in advance how credit for this work will be assigned (e.g. acknowledgement or authorship?) and what will happen upon your return (e.g. who now leads the project? who will continue to work on it?). Consider having these understandings in writing.

Are you willing to do any work from home? Being on official leave means you are entitled not to work during that leave. When considering how much you might want to do during leave, be mindful of committing yourself to doing work before you know how feasible it might be. Some tasks you might consider are: paper writing; grant writing; literature review; and conference calls. Find out if your institution has any flexible work policies for postdocs, such as teleworking or working part-time, that might provide another avenue for being home with a new baby.

Make a backup plan for complications. Despite your best-laid plans, complications can arise. Try to think through some of these in advance. For example: the baby comes much earlier than expected or your partner needs a longer recovery time after the delivery.

Tips on Talking with your Postdoctoral Supervisor

First, consider your supervisor's perspective. Regardless of how generally supportive a supervisor may be of your new life change, he or she is likely to experience some concern over the potential impact of your paternity leave on your research projects. Although granting periods can be extended, lack of research progress can jeopardize grant renewals or new funding requests. Your collective goal will be to limit these risks for all involved. Keeping the lines of communication open can help.

Many postdocs are starting families. It may be useful to keep in mind that family formation is common during the postdoctoral years. On average, most postdocs are partnered, approximately a third has children, and the fraction with children is slightly higher for men than women[1].

Choose a time to talk. The decision of when to tell your supervisor is a personal one that depends upon your specific circumstances. Expectant fathers may have a bit more discretion in this decision than pregnant mothers who are starting to "show," but the general considerations are the same: You want to allow sufficient time to plan any work accommodations you may require, especially if those accommodations involve other people from your lab or group. Also, your institution may have deadlines regarding filing paperwork for any official time off. Once you choose a time to talk to your supervisor, try to schedule a private, in-person meeting (i.e. where you can close the door) that is unlikely to be interrupted.

Consider sharing your written research plan. Sharing your written research plan can be an ideal tool for discussing your research projects during this transitional time, especially if you opt to take paternity leave. Importantly, you should also discuss expectations for this period and consider writing these down following your discussion. After updating your written plan with the results of your discussion, consider giving your supervisor an updated copy and have each of you sign it to confirm your mutual understanding. If you decide to negotiate your leave or accommodation on a more informal basis with your supervisor, a written research plan could provide a framework for that discussion as well as establish clear expectations that could help prevent misunderstandings.

When problems arise. If you are concerned that you might have difficulty coming to an understanding with your supervisor, look around for other allies who might be able to assist you. Many institutions offer advice on conflict resolution through the graduate or postdoctoral affairs office, human resources, or ombudsman.

Where to Find More Information at Your Institution


When looking for information at your institution, keep in mind that there may be no one definitive source for answers. Below are some suggestions for places that may be helpful.

  • Office of postdoctoral affairs or other office that has oversight responsibility for postdocs
  • Office of human resources
  • Employee assistance program
  • Ombudsman
  • Department chair
  • Other postdocs who have taken such leave
  • Your postdoctoral supervisor or PI
  • Postdoc handbook
  • Postdoc union representative

FOR MORE INFORMATION and further reading, consult the NPA's Family-Friendly Resources for Postdocs.




Special thanks to Ann Diers Dranka, Dan Gorelick, Keith Micoli, and Richard Weibl for their contributions to this resource. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0819994. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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[1] Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey results